Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Secret Layer Cake

Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake - Zola Jesus (mp3)
Faithfully Dangerous - Over the Rhine (mp3)

Nothing special. Just one more happy couple, holding hands, walking together in the French Quarter. Nothing attractive enough to notice.

But we noticed.

It was the first night of our annual trip to New Orleans, the annual expedition that inspired BOTG, and we stood in line outside ACME Oyster House, waiting for our fourth member to return with beer, waiting for a seat inside so we could finally eat some of the best chargrilled oysters ever to land on planet Earth.

“Isn’t that Lenny?”

Bob and I turned and looked where John was pointing. Yes. Yes, it was Lenny. And he was walking hand in hand with a woman who was most decidedly not his wife.

Last week, Bob wrote about secrets (“The Secret Lives of Nobody”). More specifically, he wrote about our lack of them:
“...we like to think that we can do things that no one will know about? Wake up. We're all watching each other all the time, and the slightest divergence from accepted behavior makes us wonder the tiniest bit.”
He concludes: “But it's worth reminding ourselves, even as we're sharing those little secrets, that there aren't any. Somebody already knows.”

But... do we know? What, exactly, do we know?

Without question, life in the 21st Century is about the constant potential loss of privacy. Anyone with money or savvy technical know-how can find out most anything they want about anyone else.

My credit card can be tracked. It could reveal my drinking habits, my unhealthy food choices, my family’s tendency to dine out a bit too frequently for our level of income, my addiction to the purchase of used DVDs.

My email can be hacked, as can my text messages. With knowledge or money, time, and an unhealthy obsession or motivation, one could surely find some juicy stuff. Critical comments I’ve written about close friends, my boss, my wife, myself? Inappropriate jokes? Who knows.

With a little elbow grease, someone could track where I go on the Internet. In my office, or when I’m at Starbucks, or when I’m at home at our desktop Mac. Every single location I visit in cyberspace.

Our encounter with Lenny in the French Quarter was the revelation of a secret that unraveled Lenny's existence. He apparently went home and confessed everything shortly thereafter. We can view this story as a prime example of how little privacy we have, but I’m haunted by this moment of discovery more because of all the things we’ll never know about Lenny.

How did he find himself in that moment? How did he, a married man with children I’m sure he loves, end up walking happily, hand in hand, with another woman in the French Quarter? Had he regularly used out-of-town conferences or trips as an excuse to find love in someone else’s arms? Had he known his married life was a sham early on, or did it disintegrate slowly over time? Or would he argue that his marriage was perfectly fine right up to the moment he got caught?

Was this woman a high school sweetheart, a long-unrequited love, an escort, someone he met at dinner last night? On the airplane or in the car on his way to New Orleans, did he know he would be holding this woman’s hand, smiling, enjoying some escapist fantasy, only to have the harsh hammer of reality crash on his head in the form of colleagues on vacation?

When he left us and got back to his hotel room that night, did he throw up? Did he sleep? If he had slept with her before seeing us, was it the last time, or would he try one more desperate attempt to pretend his real life away, to try and forget his second life had been compromised? Did he have friends who knew about this? Did his wife suspect anything before?

On the surface, Bob is right. Nothing is secret anymore. Our habits, interests and choices are ripe apples on the tree of information, easily picked.

But nothing is simple. My best friend in the world I see weekly if not more. We eat lunch, knock back beers, watch UNC games on TV, go to concerts. We talk all the time. I know him almost better than I know my wife. And there are still a million things about him that I don’t know, or can’t quite make sense of.

The moment we witnessed Lenny holding that woman’s hand? Yes, we discovered a secret and entered a room with hundreds of other doors, unknown secrets we didn’t even know existed before we saw that one.

At that revelatory French Quarter moment, we knew less about him, not more.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Great piece (questionable pseudonym). I wonder if you and I are talking about two different aspects of the same topic? I think I'm focused on secret behaviors while you seem to zero in on secret motivations.